Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP - The Inside View

Content juniors relish "taking control of their careers" in the free market system at this mighty LA-founded institution.

GIBSON Dunn is a powerful presence with extensive territory. The firm's 1,200 lawyers are spread across ten US offices, with a further ten overseas –  the latest additions being a domestic base in Houston and a new offering in Frankfurt. Kudos abounds around Gibson – it tops the Chambers USA charts for heaps of litigious and transactional practices, including antitrust, appellate, regulation, FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act], M&A, IT and outsourcing. Roam the hallways and you might spot big shot lawyers like Ted Olson (who helped overturn Proposition 8), Orin Snyder (attorney to Bob Dylan and Jerry Seinfeld) and Debra Wong Yang (the first Asian American woman to serve as a federal prosecutor). With such prestige in abundance, it's no wonder that the firm is a magnet to ambitious law students looking for a place to start private practice.

The Work 

First-year associates join Gibson's offices across the country, but the largest cohorts are based in New York, LA and DC. During their first two years, juniors have the opportunity to formally rotate between practice areas at six-month intervals. However, “most people usually come in knowing that they want to be litigators, for example, and stick with that.”

Thanks to the firm's free market system, “you have the freedom to develop your own practice and build relationships with the people you want to build relationships with. You're not forced onto projects or at the mercy of an assigning partner.” As such, “you need to take charge of your own destiny, figure out what you wanna do and go get it!”

Associates acknowledged that “there are a couple of downsides” to this system: “Time management can be an issue, especially as a first year when you don't know how many things you should take on and nobody but you knows what's on your plate. Things come up at the same time, so you're doing a ton of hours in one day and then not much at all. There's no great way to control that.” Despite negotiating this “learning curve” associates concurred that “the positives outweigh the negatives for personalities who are drawn to the free market system.” It was also reassuring to hear from a former summer associate: "It was clear that interviewers had put a lot of effort into matching me with people working in my areas of interest. I appreciated that."

“Every matter is different and so exciting!”

We heard from juniors who'd tried their hand at employment cases, data privacy, patent, legal malpractice defense, government investigations, appellate, antitrust work, healthcare, and securities cases. “I've been doing everything from researching and writing memos, to making calls to clients and doing witness interviews, to a bit of doc review.” A happy associate commented that “every matter is different and so exciting! What I love about the free market system is that you can dive into a new subject matter every couple of months. I've immersed myself in pharmacy regulation and done diligence with respect to FDA regulated entities. Then I parachuted into something different – I'm currently involved in a very large diesel emissions case along the lines of the VW matter.”

Over in corporate associates are able to try out a range of areas, including capital markets, M&A, finance, private equity and funds. An insider who'd got stuck into IP transactions explained that “as a junior on deals, I've had a lot of responsibility, way more than I expected. I communicate with clients and the other side face to face and on calls, which is a really amazing experience. I'm often keeping track of around 50 or 60 documents and I've drafted trademark and patent licenses.”

Meanwhile, associates in the real estate department pointed out that “in terms of clients, we work for the majority of large institutional names that everyone knows, in this country and internationally, but we also have the ability to work with more local players, because of the firm's connections to LA and California. As well as a global reputation we have intricate knowledge of locales and the smaller clients who are doing sometimes faster paced work require on-the-ground knowledge.” Typical tasks for juniors include attending meetings with clients and government regulators, research, reviewing and drafting documents like development agreements, easements, and purchase and sale agreements. “I also review a lot of documents that make sure we comply with California's environmental quality laws.”

Training & Development

The firm offers weekly practice-specific training sessions for new associates that are beamed out via videolink across the offices. “Each one covers a different topic like filing a complaint, or filing a motion to dismiss,” explained a source. "They're pretty helpful – it's good to cover the basics.” Of course, “you learn the most from actually trying to do the job!”

There's also the annual New Lawyer Academy – a retreat in Tucson, Arizona, attended by all new starters, including laterals, from offices across the world. In addition to litigation and transactional classes, there's ample opportunity to “drink, dance and have fun!” Activities include skeet shooting, horse riding, spa treatments and karaoke contests.

“I've been impressed with the partners here; they're concerned with how I'm developing."

Interviewees tended to be pleased with the level of feedback received from seniors during the daily grind. “I've been impressed with the partners here; they're concerned with how I'm developing and are good about taking the time to walk me through things.” Naturally, it's all “personality-dependent.” While some folk have “strong mentoring skills” and readily offer advice, others are “less proactive, but will give you red lines on your draft.”

Culture and Offices 

All our sources appreciated that Gibson is “not unnecessarily aggressive, like other BigLaw firms might be.” According to associates, “everyone here is so smart and has something to teach you all the time. The people and the work keep me on my toes, but at the same time it's a warm place – ego is checked at the door!” One emphasized that “in the law there's a lot of competition, and often a dog eat dog attitude, but I've never felt it within the firm. There are some competitive, intense people here but their energies are directed toward the other side!” The free market system is integral to the culture, thought interviewees. “It's a huge positive – regardless of rank, it forces people to be kind, respectful and nice. If they're not, partners won't get good associates to work with them. If you don't adopt a positive attitude and way of interacting then you won't survive here.”

It's definitely a place where you can make really good friends.”

As for regional culture, those in DC “are known for dressing a little more conservatively, but it's just a superficial stuffiness. People here are very down to earth and willing to take the input of juniors. Everyone is very supportive. If I’m trying to get away on vacation and something comes up, I know that a colleague is eager to take on work to make sure that I get my vacation, and I'm happy to return the favor. The mindset is that we're in this together.”

Do Gibson's West Coast roots result in laid back vibes? “Laid back is a relative term,” laughed a source. A West-coaster noted that “I've worked in the DC office and on the East Coast, and even within the firm itself there's definitely a slight divide in terms of seriousness.” An LA interviewee thought that “we have a pretty West Coast culture here, people are pretty relaxed and want to have a life outside work.”

When it comes to socializing, there's plenty going on across offices, like happy hours and informal drinks gatherings, but sources made it clear that there's no pressure to mingle after-hours if family comes first or you're just not in the mood. In 2016 the firm celebrated its 125th anniversary with a big bash that featured Lenny Kravitz and “cool speakers like Madeleine Albright and Malcolm Gladwell.” Many of our interviewees emphasized that “I'm very close with my people from my class year – we work out together, we go to dinners, go to each other's weddings. It's definitely a place where you can make really good friends.”

Hours & Compensation

The firm has a “soft target” of 1,950 hours for the year. All of our interviewees were relaxed about meeting this. “I've never been concerned about it – there's more than enough work to go around.” Many mentioned that they'd “surpassed the suggested target without any trouble.” However, it's understood that “for first-years the hours might be difficult to meet when you're ramping up at the beginning.” Everyone we spoke to was pleased to confirm that pro bono hours “count one-for-one toward the target, so there are a plenty of ways to make up the 1,950 hours.” As usual, attorneys emphasized that “things really ebb and flow – sometimes I can come in at 10am and leave at 5pm with an hour for lunch, but if a case is going crazy then I'll be up late.” Juniors weren't too clear about the specifics of the bonus system, although everyone is eligible for a merit-based bonus, even if they don't hit the 1,950.

Pro bono 

"Working to exonerate two men in Maryland wrongfully convicted of murder."

As mentioned previously, the firm credits all pro bono hours and there isn't a formal cap. Every insider we talked to had at least one pro bono matter on the go. A source spoke of being  involved in an “exceptional” Innocence Project case, “working to exonerate two men in Maryland wrongfully convicted of murder. It's been an ongoing commitment for the firm over the past three or four years, and the firm has thrown a remarkable amount of resources into it in terms of man hours and money! It's really impressive.” Other interviewees mentioned that they'd worked on clemency petitions, immigration and adoption cases, helped to form a nonprofit dog shelter and undertaken employment work for a local ballet institution.

Pro Bono Hours

  • For all US attorneys: 152, 912
  • Average per US attorney: 131


“A priority.”

Juniors admitted that, as with most big firms, diversity levels definitely need to improve. However, all of them agreed that Gibson “makes diversity a priority” Many mentioned that “the firm is very attentive to women's issues. They have regular lunches and events that encourage women to stay on track for partnership. There aren't as many women in senior leadership roles as men, so everyone agrees that this needs to be addressed.” There's also an all-women retreat “to talk about retention and celebrate female lawyers.”

Get Hired

Associates weren't short of things to say when asked about the sort of person who thrives here. “They certainly look for people who are going to take advantage of the free market system. You need to be the type of person who wants to knock on doors or network in order to develop your career. Fit is very important because the firm is proud and protective of the culture.” Various lunches and dinners form part of the selection process (“They put a lot of emphasis on seeing how you perform in a more casual setting”).

Leslie Ripley, chief recruiting officer, confirms that “it's not just about law school academics; part of the equation is the personalities of the people we're hiring, and whether they fit into our culture. That's why we have an extensive OCI program and generally include meals during the callback process – we want to spend more time with our potential recruits.” This emphasis on personality was certainly echoed by our interviewees. "I came for interviews as a summer and really hit it off with everyone I met with, people seemed generally happy, doors were open in hallways," said a DCer. Then a Manhattanite told us: "I guess when I was interviewing for firms to work for as law student, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the number, and how similar they all are, but here I felt at ease with people I met."

Interview with the firm chairman and managing partner, Ken Doran.

What have been the major highlights for the firm over the past 12 months?

KD:  There have been many highlights.  It's been a very exciting time for the firm. In 2016, we handled a number of high profile matters for our clients, including winning a $3 billion jury verdict for HP, advising LinkedIn on its antitrust issues from its acquisition by Microsoft, and advising Marriott on its $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels.

We have also grown significantly in the past 12 months.  In addition to strong organic growth, the strength of our platform and our culture can be seen through the lateral partners we attract.  In 2016, we successfully recruited a number of terrific partners.  About half of the laterals who joined us in 2016 are resident outside the US enabling us to strengthen our global platform and launch a new office in Frankfurt.  In the U.S., we also added partners to our private equity and litigation groups. 

This growth has continued into 2017.  Earlier this year, we opened an office in Houston, which was an important step in becoming a true global player in the energy space when combined with our strong regulatory, power and alternative energy practices.  Today, we are able to handle complex energy transactions, including oil & gas, capital markets, M&A, finance & restructuring and tax. 

In 2017, we also added more senior officials from the Obama administration, including the general counsels of the CIA and EPA.  And we've just recently added another partner in Frankfurt who will lead a litigation, white collar and investigations practice for us, and a team in Hong Kong who will add additional private equity, M&A, finance and capital markets expertise to that region.

What's the firm's strategy for the future?

KD:  We want to position ourselves to provide outstanding client service across our global platform.  We are committed to grow where we see client opportunities to do so.  Our two new offices and recent laterals exemplify that approach.  We remain deeply committed to maintaining quality and our culture even as we grow, which has been a hallmark of our strategy and a driver of our success. In the short term, I don't foresee any new offices.  We believe we're currently well-positioned in the key financial markets of the world, but we'll continue to monitor our clients' needs and be opportunistic.

What qualities do junior associates need to succeed at Gibson Dunn?

KD:  Our practice is very dynamic, so we're looking for lawyers who appreciate a challenge, relish cutting-edge work, and thrive in an ever-changing market environment.  We also seek lawyers who are naturally collaborative and collegial, who are passionate about their work, and who take great pride in delivering excellent work product on a consistent basis.  Our associates need to be very smart, creative, dedicated to client service, and willing to take initiative. 

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

333 South Grand Avenue,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071-1512

  • Head Office: Los Angeles, CA 
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 10
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,606, 500,000
  • Partners (US): 318
  • Associates (US): 786
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 121 (incl.uding 6 1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 115 offers, 94 acceptances as of 3/1/17

Main areas of work
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is renowned for both its litigation and transactional work. Major practice groups include antitrust, capital markets, class actions, environmental, electronic discovery, information technology, intellectual property, media and entertainment, mergers and acquisitions, securities, transnational litigation and whitecollar defense. The firm is especially known for its appellate work, particularly in the US Supreme Court. Firm profile Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is a full-service global law firm, with over 1,300 lawyers in 20 offices worldwide, including ten offices in major cities throughout the United States and over 190 lawyers in their London, Paris, Munich, Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and São Paulo offices. The firm is recognized for excellent legal service and its lawyers routinely represent clients in some of the most high-profile litigations and complex transactions in the world.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 75
• Number of 2nd year associates: 121
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Berkeley, Chicago, Colorado, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Irvine, Loyola, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Pepperdine, San Diego, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Yale

Summer details 

Summer associate profile:
Gibson Dunn’s summer program is the single largest means through which new lawyers become a part of our firm. Each summer, Gibson Dunn brings together approximately 125 of the most accomplished and ambitious students from the top law schools across the nation, providing them with real involvement in the high quality legal work that our firm does every day. Our summer associates are involved directly in the firm’s representation of its clients, maximizing their exposure to the practical aspects of lawyering. In addition to interesting client work, the summer program includes many great social activities giving summer associates the chance to get to know each other and the lawyers of the firm.

Summer program components:
The firm provides significant and substantive training to our select group of summer associates. Each summer associate receives detailed feedback on the projects that they perform plus numerous formal training programs.